Walk Worthily in Unity

Ephesians 4:1-6

Remember the overarching theme of Ephesians:

God’s eternal purpose is to gather into one the whole created universe by reconciling His creatures to Himself and to each other, a purpose He is working out through Christ in the church and ultimately to the praise of His glory.

1. Walk worthily

Paul begins the second half of his letter with an exhortation to the Ephesian church that they behave in a way consistent with their “effectual calling”. He offers up a subtle reminder that such a habit of life may come with a cost – imprisonment for him, a cost which he considered well worth the reward!

If Christ has called us into his church, we have a duty to conduct our lives, walk about through the community in a way that reflects our calling or vocation. Paul uses the word αξιως (axios), a term more familiar in commerce meaning (TDNT Properly,) “bringing up the other beam of the scales,” “bringing into equilibrium.” and therefore “equivalent”. If you are a Christian, call yourself and wish to be considered a Christian, live as a Christian; in the context of your vocation, be who you really are called to be.

Paul is talking about a balance between profession and practice, a correspondence between Teacher and student, between the Model and his followers. Picture a double-pan balance, we are on one side and the ideal is on the other. We are called to the ideal of conformity to Christ, matching the example he has set for us, children of God as he is, having been adopted into the family – Rom_8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

The characteristic virtues that accompany such conformity are: humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance.

  • humility – a true estimate of ourselves and sense of our demerit before God; a proper self-image and recognition that the ground is level at the foot of the cross; modesty of behavior and not drawing inordinate attention to ourselves.
  • gentleness – a word Jesus used twice to describe himself: “for I am gentle and lowly in heart” Mat_11:29 and “Behold your King comes to you, meek and sitting upon a donkey” Mat_21:5 Isaiah describes Jesus as a lamb led to the slaughter, a sheep before shearers in Isa_53:7.We are to be gently submissive to the will of God, considerate of others, of a mild disposition and not self-assertive; it is meekness, not weakness, that is, strength under control.

    Charles Hodge calls it an “uncomplaining disposition of mind, which enables us to bear without irritation or resentment the faults and injuries of others.”

  • patience – quiet endurance in the presence of difficulty and reluctance to avenge an injustice or to retaliate against a wrong committed, deferring the infliction of punishment.
  • forbearance in love – putting up with the faults and irritations of others on the basis of unconditional love, love that expects nothing in return. The motivation for forbearance is love, not brownie points; it is not the cross we have to bear and then boast about with rolled eyes.

When H. M. Stanley went to Africa in 1871 to find and report on David Livingstone, he spent several months in the missionary’s company, carefully observing the man and his work. Livingstone never spoke to Stanley about spiritual matters, but Livingstone’s loving and patient compassion for the African people was beyond Stanley’s comprehension. He could not understand how the missionary could have such love for and patience with the backward, pagan people among whom he had so long ministered. Livingstone literally spent himself in untiring service for those whom he had no reason to love except for Christ’s sake. Stanley wrote in his journal, “When I saw that unwearied patience, that unflagging zeal, and those enlightened sons of Africa, I became a Christian at his side, though he never spoke to me one word.” MacArthur, Commentary

“Let us remember, therefore, that, in cultivating brotherly kindness, we must begin with humility. Whence come rudeness, pride, and disdainful language towards brethren? Whence come quarrels, insults, and reproaches? Come they not from this, that every one carries his love of himself, and his regard to his own interests, to excess? By laying aside haughtiness and a desire of pleasing ourselves, we shall become meek and gentle, and acquire that moderation of temper which will overlook and forgive many things in the conduct of our brethren. Let us carefully observe the order and arrangement of these exhortations. It will be to no purpose that we inculcate forbearance till the natural fierceness has been subdued, and mildness acquired; and it will be equally vain to discourse of meekness, till we have begun with humility.” Calvin, Commentary

2. Preserve unity

Is it any wonder that with this as the theme of Ephesians that Paul would stress the theme of oneness – unity – in his doctrinal section? He exhorts his readers to keep the unity of the Spirit and then uses the number one seven times in verses 4 thru 6 of chapter 4.

Paul further exhorts his readers to be zealous, to exert themselves to the end of preserving the unity between Jew and Gentile as well as individual believers Christ accomplished by his substitutionary death. The source of the unity believers experience is the indwelling Holy Spirit whose ministry is directly affected by the attitudes and behavior of believers –
“As hatred, pride and contention among Christians cause the Spirit to withdraw from them, so love and peace secure his presence. And as his presence is the condition and source of all good, and his absence the source of all evil, the importance of the duty enjoined cannot be over-estimated.” Hodge, Commentary

The church cannot create spiritual unity; it is created in us by the Holy Spirit. If the church lives at peace with one another and does everything possible to maintain peace – remember Jesus’ statement in the Sermon on the Mount, “blessed are the peacemakers” – God will bless those efforts by making us of one mind. The thing that “ties us all together”, the ligament that binds us together in unity is peace.

We don’t lose our individual identity when Christ joins us to his church; that becomes crystal clear in the follow-on passage where Paul describes how Christ has blessed the individual members of his body with particular gifts. But within the context of the church we can experience peace and unity when we “think the same way, hav[e] the same love, shar[e] the same feelings, focus on one goal. Phi_2:2

3. Stay focused

This unity of thought and attitude doesn’t exist in a doctrinal vacuum. Remember that the basis or foundation of our unity in the body of Christ is that which makes the body of believers a body. The church is a single community of people brought together and unified by a number of things held in common. Beginning with verse 4 Paul enumerates the nature and ground of our unity, those truths we hold in common.

Just as the Persons of the Triune God were described by Paul as each having a role in our salvation, here again he describes the ongoing place of unity in Trinity in the life of the church. Spirit, Son and Father are identified in their respective activities, then drawn together in unity in the closing statement.

It is the effectual call and regenerating power of the Holy Spirit that unites us together into one body, that makes us living members of the body of Christ. It is the Spirit who is the earnest money deposit, the engagement ring, guaranteeing the future realization of our hope, our place in heaven and our complete salvation.

The one church exists under the headship and authority of her Lord, Jesus Christ who is the object of her faith and the one whose death, burial and resurrection is signified in baptism. Contrary to the dictates of political correctness, Paul declares that there is only one Lord, not many, and there is only one belief system, not many roads that all lead to the same destiny. This is completely consistent with what Jesus taught about himself and Paul’s instruction to Timothy that “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,” 1Ti_2:5

In verse 6 Paul ties up this package in God the Father who is sovereign over all things including the church and our salvation, who uses all things at his disposal to accomplish his ends for the church, and who is present everywhere but especially so in the church. While the over, through, and in applies in general terms, Paul’s focus here is on God’s relation to his church, the body of Christ as is evident by his use of the word Father.

It is this unity of purpose and work on God’s part that forms the basis for unity in the church. There is one God with one purpose sovereignly ruling over one church. As Paul already described in chapter 1, the three Persons of the Trinity work in unity to accomplish the salvation of individual believers; here in chapter 4 he describes the same unity to bring about his ultimate glory through Christ in the church.

Hendriksen “Moreover, the unity amid diversity which pertains to the Trinity is the basis for the essential unity in the midst of the circumstantial variety which characterizes the church…”
Consider the scope of our unity – Paul’s use of the word one to denote exclusivity or uniqueness:

  1. one Spirit
  2. one Lord
  3. one Father
  4. one body
  5. one hope
  6. one faith
  7. one baptism

All believers past, present and future are one body; all believers “from every tribe and language and people and nation” Rev_5:9 are one body. All the saints have a single hope, the expectation of complete sanctification and enjoyment of his immediate presence forever. The believer’s hope is founded on a single faith, generated in us by the gracious gift of God and focused on God as its only proper and effectual object. The outward sign of our inward union with Christ is our baptism into the name of the Triune God, showing our covenantal relationship with God and our desire to be identified with him.

We seem to find it easy to profess our union with God, at least in non-threatening circumstances. It is more difficult for us to practice union with God’s principles. What is probably the most difficult is to practice Biblical unity with God’s people, fellow members of Christ’s body. We tend to extremes, either focusing on and boasting in our differences – doctrinal, denominational, stylistic, etc. – or giving away the store and uniting over the “least common denominator” – belief in God (regardless of definition), naming the name of Jesus, self-proclaimed nominal Christians.

What the apostle calls us to do is affirm and preserve our unity on the basis of truth with a spirit of genuine humility and gentle patience with one another that will redound to the glory of God in the church.

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